By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Following the surprise retirement of Dustin Woodard and release of Nick Coe, the Patriots find themselves with four open spots on the 80-man roster. Bill Belichick told reporters Friday morning to expect “more personnel movement” in the coming days, and it would make sense that the team would want to fill those spots before full-speed practices begin on Monday.
The Patriots are still usually thin, especially in terms of experience, at a few key positions. It would make a ton of sense for them to bring in veterans to compete for spots on the back-end of the roster, while simultaneously helping to both both push and teach the younger group of players.
While the Patriots $30 million-plus in cap space looks attractive, there’s a number of reasons for the team to be cautious spending it, including opted out contracts returning next year and a potentially strong 2021 free agency market. That being said, let’s rule out potential big splash signings (sorry to the Jadeveon Clowney people) and focus more on potential cost effective, value options.
These are players who could potentially have solid contributions left in the tank, but would also be cheap enough to sign that if they don’t work out, there wouldn’t be major ramifications to letting them go during roster cut-downs.
Keeping that in mind, here’s four players who I see as ideal fits for the final four spots on the roster:
EDGE Clay Matthews
At 34-years-old, Matthews is far removed from his All-Pro Packer days. Still, his tank isn’t empty – he posted eight sacks in 13 games last year with the Rams
Belichick has a knack for getting the most out of players who are in the twilight of their careers, and Matthews appears to be right in that sweet spot. Plus, his skill set would allow the Patriots coaching staff to get creative in their designs, picking and choosing when and where to use him, making him an effective pass-rush weapon on obvious passing downs.
Matthews played just 55.4-percent of the Rams defensive snaps last year, and could have a similar role in New England. The limited time on the field would help keep him fresh, while allowing the Patriots to fill in the back end of the depth chart as John Simon and Chase Winovich graduate into bigger roles following the departures of Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins. Plus, Matthews would serve as a fantastic teacher for the Patriots high-investment young pass rushers such as Winovich, Josh Uche, and Anfernee Jennings.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Thursday that it shouldn’t take big money for a team to lure in Matthews.
WR Jermaine Kearse
Kearse missed all of 2019 after suffering a gruesome broken leg in the Lions preseason game against the Patriots. So there is an injury unknown to keep in mind here. If he is physically up to the Patriots standards though, he’d add size, versatility, and experience to a wide receiver group that could definitely use all three.
In his last full season in 2018, the 6-foot-1, 209 pound Kearse split his time lining up in the slot and lining up outside almost in half. That’s a similar role to the one many have imagined for N’Keal Harry, and Kearse would give him an experienced brain to pick during training camp.
If fully healthy, Kearse could give the Patriots a solid secondary weapon to line up all over the formation, something they lacked for most of last year opposite Julian Edelman.
Or at the very least, Kearse would be a logical choice to fit whatever role Belichick and Josh McDaniels had in mind Marquise Lee, who opted out earlier this month after being signed in April.
TE Ben Braunecker
Braunecker is the least experienced and probably least familiar name on this list, but there are a few things that would make him an attractive option for the Patriots.
He has some NFL experience. How much? 13 catches. Still though, that would be the most by any tight end on the Patriots roster. Perhaps just as, if not more relevant, is his special teams experience – Braunecker was a key contributor for the Chicago Bears in that phase of the game over the last four years.
On offense, he played primarily a blocking role for the Bears, but was occasionally targeted in the red zone as well. There are some similarities in his game to Jordan Leggett, who the Patriots nearly signed earlier this week.
While guys like Delanie Walker and Charles Clay may be more exciting names, the Patriots could be better served with a more reliable and versatile option who is a better fit for their system in Braunecker.
Also, he majored in Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard with a focus on studying infectious diseases. It couldn’t hurt to have another person with that kind of knowledge in the building right now.
OT LaAdrian Waddle
Patriots fans should remember Waddle as the team’s swing tackle from 2015-2018. He left as a free agent last spring when given a chance to compete for a starting job in Buffalo, but missed the entire season after tearing his quad during training camp.
Now back on the market, the Patriots and Waddle seem like they could each benefit from being around each other. The Patriots need a right tackle following Marcus Cannon’s opt out, and who could be better than the guy who filled in when Cannon missed time in 2017 and 2018?
Meanwhile, the 29-year-old Waddle needs to prove he can still play following a serious injury, and a team where he already knows the offense and has an opening at right tackle would be the ideal place to do that. Win-win.